As a gay man in Singapore, William Tan didn’t have an easy time buying his first home. In his own words, he made some mistakes. At the time, he didn’t have many he could turn to for firsthand advice. But since becoming a realtor, he’s learnt what he could have done better, and has now come full circle.
Today, William is on a mission to help queer individuals on their home ownership journeys, motivated by his personal experience and informed by his professional one as a real estate professional. He’s the founder of Haus of Pride, a team of real estate sales professionals who believe in inclusive home ownership, and co-founder of Prident, a collective of professionals in the real estate, financial and legal spheres who support the LGBTQ+ community.
“I think everybody in Singapore should be able to afford a home, whether you are gay, straight, or, whatever kind of social identity you identify with,” William affirms to me during our chat. I concur 110%. That’s why we’re bringing you William’s top 10 property ownership tips for LGBTQ housing. Queer couples, read on for why you should think twice about the Joint Singles Scheme, and how to protect yourselves legally in lieu of the usual marriage laws and prenuptial agreement.
Disclaimer: This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
An LGBTQ+ Real Estate Expert’s Top 10 Home Ownership Tips For Queer Couples
- Stop renting. Start owning (as soon as you can afford to).
- Think twice about the Joint Singles Scheme
- Those walk-up heritage flats? Don’t buy them.
- Buying a new HDB flat? Go for bigger units.
- Don’t forget executive condos
- Define your shares, track your contributions
- Protect yourselves with a will and LPA
- Sign a “prenup” (sorta)
- Think about retirement
- Never give up on your home ownership dreams!
- Resources for LGBTQ+ people buying a home
1. Stop renting. Start owning (as soon as you can afford to).
“Whether you’re straight or queer, single or a couple, buying property in Singapore obviously is not cheap. In fact, it’s getting more and more expensive. So you definitely need to do proper planning as early as possible. Speak to a realtor with LGBTQ+ home buying experience to walk you through the process and discuss your options with you. Don’t overstretch yourself, make sure that you find something within your capability.
Something that I would tell people is to start their home ownership plans as early as possible—stop renting! I advise my clients to enter the property market earlier if they can afford to, because owning properties is about entering as early as you can so that you can have multiple property cycles of buying and selling. Each time you buy and you sell, you are able to upgrade your home.
That’s what a lot of straight couples do. Buy a BTO flat when they get married, and by the time they sell off the BTO, usually they will pocket like $300,000 to $500,000 profit. The $300,000 to $500,000 profit gets invested into maybe a condominium, or they go and buy an EC. That’s how the progression of property happens in the hetero world.
But in the LGBT world, we don’t have all this. We only enter the market later at 35 years old, so we’re losing out 10 years. 10 years could easily be two property cycles for some people. So we enter late, we aren’t able to make those kinds of profits from each property cycle. This is one of the challenges of LGBTQ+ individuals buying homes. And all the more we should start as early as possible!”
To drive home William’s message of starting early, here’s an anecdote. William met with a pair of 31 year olds the day after the interview. They’re gay and in a committed relationship with each other. Though they can’t buy an HDB flat yet, they wanted to start planning their home purchase already.
2. Think twice about the Joint Singles Scheme.
“LGBTQ+ couples don’t have the very clearly demarcated life stages of straight people, where you get married, go BTO, and have kids. So, I think it’s important to factor this into your life planning. You have to think, okay, we want to buy a property together while we’re still young in our 20s or 30s. We don’t have a lot of money, so we need to have a joint income to buy the property together. But maybe further down the road, maybe in your 40s, what do you both want to do? Where do you want to live?
We can still model it after how straight people do it. A lot of families decouple themselves to own property separately. After the minimum occupancy period of their BTO flat, the husband and wife will decouple themselves and they’ll sell the BTO flat. Then, they’re “free”, right? So one person will buy a master property to live in, and the other person will buy a property to rent out for investment. In Singapore, our names are so precious. If you tie two persons’ names into one property, it’s a waste.
This is why I will actually discourage people to go for the Joint Singles Scheme. Because why tie your two names into one? Just buy a HDB each, and then just stay in it for five years, individually. After five years, you technically can rent out the whole unit. And then, one of you can move into the other person’s unit. If your incomes are low, no choice. But if your income is high enough to buy property on your own, don’t drag your partner’s name into your property.
Some people say, we want to own something together. I say yeah I understand, but it doesn’t make sense financially or strategically. If you’re going into the Joint Singles Scheme together, you cannot put one person as the occupier like how straight couples do, and both have to be co-owners. Meaning, there’s no way out if you want to buy a second property later on. So just leave your partner’s name out first, so that in future, they can go and buy something else. Trust me, straight couples are doing this!
3. Those walk-up heritage flats? Don’t buy them.
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“A lot of people will come to me at 35 and say, “oh, I’m buying a HDB flat. This is my forever home.”. I say, you’re 35! My mom and dad ended up moving our family 3 times. So if you’re thinking of buying a flat that is gonna be your forever home, I say you’re not thinking far enough. You need to think that somewhere down the road, 15 years down the road, your financial situation might change, and you might need to change. You might upgrade or downgrade.
Another kinda related problem, a common mistake that LGBTQ+ people make, is that they buy old properties. They see the media and property magazines publish pieces on those renovated walk-ups in Tiong Bahru, old flats in Ang Mo Kio that are 50 or 40 plus years old. They are big flats. They are transformed into very nice homes. And people say oh, it’s cheap, big, and I can buy it and renovate it. But I say, unless you’re gonna live in it forever, you’re never going to make the recovery of the investment after the renovation costs. And the property value is never going to go higher because the property is already in its later stage of its life cycle. So I break people’s dreams, I say it’s a bad idea, don’t do this!
As a rule of thumb, you need to have a lease that covers you to 95 years old. That’s for financing purposes. Later on when you are 55 years old, you need that property to pledge for your retirement account. Any property that doesn’t cover you to 95 cannot be used as a collateral. Other than that, I would still recommend people to come look at HDB flats within a 20 year period—anything above that, we will have to be very careful. Anything above 30 years old, I will probably not advise anyone to buy it already. Because once a property hits the 40 year old mark, the decay starts coming in very fast.”
4. Buying a new HDB flat? Go for bigger units.
Buying a BTO flat as a single is not an option I would suggest to people—unless the government decides to change the rules and allow singles to buy a 3-room flat. Now, singles can only buy 2-room Flexi units in non-mature estates. For BTO, a typical BTO 2-room Flexi is about 450, at most 500 square feet. It’s basically equivalent to a very small studio apartment—one bedroom and a living room.
Even though you buy into it at a good entry price, the resale value of BTO 2-room flats is not fantastically high. I mean, straight people who buy BTO are usually married couples buying 4-rooms or 5-rooms. Once those flats reach their MOP in 5 years or so, they have huge potential to make a huge profit. People make $400,000 or even $500,000! That’s like the government’s bonus, a free ang bao for you.
But if you buy a BTO 2-room, you’ll maybe only make $100,000 gains from there, and you’re locking yourself in a property that is very small. The older you are, the shorter your tenure will be when it comes to a home loan. A tenure can last you to 65 years old. So as you get older and older, your mortgage will get higher and higher because you can only loan the sum for a shorter period of time. So that is a very clear disadvantage when you’re older and you’re trying to buy property.”
5. Don’t forget executive condos.
“For LGBTQ+ individuals, the 35 year old age mark kind of determines where the entry level is. If you’re looking at buying a property that is below 35 years old, then you only have the choice of maybe buying a private property, a new condominium, a resale condominium, or maybe you can also explore resale executive condos (ECs).
A lot of people don’t know about ECs, which is kind of like a hybrid between private property and a HDB property. For a new EC, you can actually buy it under the Joint Singles Scheme, but you won’t get the grant that straight couples get. But if you want to buy a resale EC as a single below 35, you can. Just think of ECs in the resale market as basically equivalent to a private property.”
6. Define your shares, track your contributions.
“A joint ownership basically means that both of you own the property as one whole unit. When one party passes away, the other person basically takes over the property. It’s almost like a joint bank account. Tenancy in common is a little bit different, where you basically split a share to each party. The share could be 50%-50%, based on equal contributions of the monies into the property. But in a case where maybe both parties are not of the same income bracket, and maybe one person pays a little bit more and the other person pays a bit lesser, you can then split it accordingly. Say, 60-40%, 70-30%. When you do that, it allows you to clearly define how much I contribute based on my income every month.
In a joint ownership of a property, what happens is quite clearly defined. But I have read in the news that, not in the case of an LGBTQ+ couple, a case of when parties have contested a joint ownership. Someone said they should get the property because they contributed money. And, a lot of times, at the end of the day in court, the judge might also look at contributions.
So if you’re buying a property as a couple and making contributions, it’s very good to document your monthly transactions going into your property. Which bank account, where the money is deducted, how my CPF is deducted, how many percent, and whatever balance of mortgage there is. These are very important things to keep a record of.”
7. Protect yourselves with a will and LPA.
“I would advise people to do tenancy in common, then look into writing a will so that you can give the other person their share of property when you pass away. Make sure that nobody can contest it.
You should also do your Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA), which will come in very handy in the case where a person is in a comatose state or can’t make sound decisions. The LPA allows you to appoint anybody—in this case, your partner—to make medical decisions, have visitation rights, and make financial decisions. In this case, the choice of whether to liquidate a property that you co-own together.
This is a very common step for LGBTQ+ couples to move forward because it replaces some of the legal rights of marriage. It’s almost kind of like a pseudo marriage, you know, for you to exercise other things for the other person. It’s not as ideal as actually getting married, but it allows you to put in place some things that you can rely on.”
8. Sign a “prenup” (sorta).
“You can use certain legal tools to put in place something to protect yourself in case of a separation. Some people do this extra step of drafting out a private, legally binding agreement with a lawyer on the side to say this is how we have paid for the property, and in case of a dispute, this is what will happen.
I always think that there are 3 things that can happen: You die, you don’t die, or you split. If you split up, what happens if you don’t have a final settlement kind of agreement? You need to have something that addresses what happens if a couple dissolves their relationship. How do you settle the investment that you have done together?
Consider speaking with a lawyer to help you draft up some kind of agreement on how you contribute certain things. It’s almost like a prenup agreement, how you’re going to arrange certain things and split things like property in the worst case scenarios.”
9. Think about retirement.
“If you decide to buy a property together, you decide to live together, it’s basically telling each other that we are in this for a lifelong thing. So think about not just your entry strategy, but also your exit strategy.
You probably will not have kids, unless you decide to go for adoption. Think about how you’re going to move through life together, and then towards the later stage, how you’re going to retire together. Because the retirement part is another part that may be challenging in your relationship. You may end up feeling quite lonely in your later years. I mean, you won’t have children, right? So how would you cope if one person passes on? Think about what the final leg of your life will look like.”
10. Never give up on your home ownership dreams!
“What I would like to tell people is not to be negative about the idea of home ownership. Home ownership in Singapore is important, and everyone can achieve it. We obviously have a slightly more challenging situation as LGBTQ+ people, but definitely don’t give up that dream of owning your own home. It’s the Singaporean dream. Every Singaporean aspires to have a home; a big reason why Singapore is so successful as a country is also because our government has been effective in providing a home for everybody.
I think everybody in Singapore should be able to afford a home, whether you are gay, straight, or whatever kind of social identity you identify with. You’re Singaporean, you pay tax, you do everything just like any other Singaporean. We’re no different from anybody else. So go out and achieve that dream. We will get there.”
Need help getting started on your home ownership journey?
Here are some resources for LGBTQ+ individuals:
- Haus of Pride—A team of LGBTQ-friendly real estate sales professionals who support queer individuals.
- Prident—A collective of professionals supporting the LGBTQ+ community in areas such as real estate, finance, and law.
- Singapore LGBTQ Property Listing – Buy, Sell and Rent—A private Facebook group William set up that functions as an LGBTQ-friendly space to buy/sell or rent property.
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